What is Stress?
A person experiences stress when he or she experiences things that are perceived to go beyond their coping abilities. Stress is the internal reaction to the perceived threat of either internal or external stressors. Internal stressors can be things like sickness, disease or hunger. External stressors include things such as divorce and other marital problems, work related stress, death of a loved one or financial troubles. Stress may also be the result of extreme but short lived events such as natural disasters or exposure to crime, war or terrorism.
What happens in the body as a result of stress?
It is the person’s perception of an internal or external situation as stressful that creates the physiological stress response. Not all people find similar situations stressful and different people have different capacities for coping with stressful situations. When stress is perceived a process know as the “Fight or Flight” response is triggered. This response is something that has been hard-wired into us through it’s vital survival value during our evolution.
If our distant ancestors faced a dangerous animal their bodies needed to be in an optimal state to literally fight or flee. Unfortunately many of the stressors we face to day are chronic, which means of long duration, and cannot be combated by either fighting or running away. The following bodily processes occur when the stress response is triggered:
- When a situation is judged to be stressful the hypothalamus at the base of the brain is activated. The hypothalamus then sends signals to the pituitary gland and the adrenal medulla.
- in response to this signal from the brain the pituitary gland (a pea sized gland at the base of the brain) secretes adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH). This is in turn causes the adrenal gland (two small glands located on top of each kidney) to produce the hormone cortisol.
- In response to a stress signal the adrenal gland also produces adrenalin.
The problem with chronic stress.
Cortisol controls the following bodily functions:
- Controls the body’s blood sugar levels
- Regulates metabolism
- Acts as an anti-inflamatory
- Influences memory formation
- Controls salt and water balance
- Influences blood pressure
All of these processes are important to ensure the body’s optimal reaction to stressors but when the stressors or related stress becomes chronic then your health starts to suffer.
When you stew on a problem, the body continuously releases cortisol, and chronic elevated levels can lead to serious issues. Too much cortisol can suppress the immune system, increase blood pressure and sugar, decrease libido, produce acne, contribute to obesity and more.
Adrenaline has the following functions:
- Increases heart rate
- Increases blood pressure
- Expands air passages in the lungs
- enlarging the pupil in the eye
- redistributes blood to the muscles
- Maximizes blood glucose levels
Once again all of these effects have survival value in a fight or flight situation but when too much adrenaline is produced for too long in reaction to chronic stress then your health will begin to worsen.
The following unhealthy effects result: persistent rapid heart beat, high blood pressure, anxiety, weight loss, excessive sweating and palpitations.
untreated chronic stress can result in serious health conditions including anxiety, insomnia, muscle pain, high blood pressure and a weakened immune system. Research shows that stress can contribute to the development of major illnesses, such as heart disease, depression and obesity. Some studies have even suggested that unhealthy chronic stress management, such as overeating “comfort” foods, has contributed to the growing obesity epidemic.
Psychological and social results of chronic stress
Many studies have found that there is a clear and persistent link between stress and depression with stressful life events such as divorce, losing a loved one or losing ones job often occurring shortly before admission into psychiatric facilities for depression. Chronic stress has also been linked to the development of anxiety disorder.
The following emotional and social effects of stress have all been extensively reported and documented:
- Mood swings
- Feeling of powerlessness
- Low self esteem
- Low self worth
- Lack of interest in activities
- Memory problems
- Panic attacks
- Feelings of guilt
- Angry outbursts
- Increased cynicism
- Isolation/few close friends
- Feeling overwhelmed
- Unable to feel happy
- Feelings of hopelessness
Dealing with Stress
Research had shown that up to 75% of people regularly experience physical symptoms related to stress and up to 33% of people report living with extreme stress. Thankfully there are many things that you can do to help cope with and manage stress. Some of the best stress management tips, written about on www.skillsyouneed.com, are summarized below:
- Reduce your intake of caffeine, cigarettes, alcohol and unrefined sugar – all of these substances increase feelings of stress and also reduce the body’s natural ability to deal with stress. Instead of coffee rather drink water, herbal tea or fruit juice. Also avoid excess sugar which gives you a short lived boost followed by an energy “crash” which leaves you feeling even more tired and irritable.
- Get plenty of exercise – this will help your body metabolize the excess stress hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol in a healthy way avoiding the negative effects discussed above. Also activities such as running or swimming produce endorphins in the body which are natural ”feel good” chemicals. regular exercise will also improve the quality of your sleep.
- Get enough sleep – lack of sleep is a significant cause of stress. Try to relax before going to sleep and avoid caffeine in the evenings. Also stop doing demanding work a few hours before sleep in order to give your body and mind enough time to calm down. Try having a relaxing bath before bed time or reading an undemanding book which will tire your eyes and help you fall asleep. Try to go to sleep at the same time each night in order to get into a predictable and healthy routine.
- Try relaxation techniques – try things like meditation, yoga, deep breathing and positive affirmations. These will help improve your ability to calm your mind without having to resort to chemicals such as tranquilizers and sleeping pills.
- Talk to someone about your worries – Stress tends to cloud one’s judgement and ability to find solutions. Getting feedback from friends or a trained professional can help you find practical solutions to the problems that are causing you stress.
- Keep a journal – keeping a journal of the things that cause you stress will help you understand what stresses you better and also help you to come up with ways to avoid them or deal with them better. Also getting your troubles onto paper helps to get them out of your head where they tend to do the most harm.
- Manage your time – none of us has enough time to do everything. It’s important to learn how to prioritize and only do what truly needs to be done. Also make sure to leave enough time in your day for your loved ones, your hobbies and your mental and spiritual development. Learn to delegate, learn to not micromanage the universe and learn to accept that not all things that you want to achieve will necessarily be doable. Learn to seek progress rather than perfection.
- Supplement your diet with vitamins and natural herbal remedies – your body needs to have a regular diet of healthy food in order to cope with day to day stress. The following is just a sample of widely recommended foods – beans, spinach, citrus, sweet potatoes, berries, tomatoes, salmon, whole grains, nuts, yogurt. Also be sure to take a good daily multivitamin just in case you are not getting enough essential vitamins and minerals in your diet. Herbal Remedies International has a fantastic herbal product scientifically designed to help combat stress and depression called Enviga.The main ingredients of Enviga MoodEnhance are:5-hydroxytryptophan (5-HTP) – 5-HTP is not found naturally in food but has to be produced by the body from tryptophan that can be found in chicken, milk, sunflower seeds, pumpkin and potato. 5-HTP increases Serotonin levels in the brain. This is a natural way to achieve what many of the most popular prescription anti-depressants do. It also helps combat sleep disorders, ADHD and pre-menstrual stress. The 5-HTP in Enviga MoodEnhance is extracted from griffonia simplicifolia, a woody climbing shrub native to West Africa and Central Africa.Sceletium Tortuosum – This is a South African succulent herb and part of the Mesembryanthemum family. Use of sceletium as a mood elevator and to treat anxiety, stress and tension has been recorded since ancient times. It was first written about in 1662 by Jan van Riebeeck. It has been shown to enhance mood and reduce the effects of tension and stress.Vitamin B6 -B vitamins are a very important component of mental and physical health. Vitamin B6 is particularly important because helps to produce and control the chemicals that influence mood and other brain functions. Low levels of vitamin B6 and B12 have been linked to depression. Boosting your vitamin B6 level will help combat symptoms of depression. Vitamin B6 has been found to increase the effectiveness of both 5-HTP and Sceletium making Enviga MoodEnhance the best natural anti-depressant and general mood enhancer available.